I’m not feeling depressed and I’m not trying to make anyone feel down. When I read the statistic last week that 1500 pastor/priest/minister types leave their jobs every single month it got me started thinking about the pathology behind a number like that.
If anyone reading is a great researcher I’d be curious to know how that compares to other professions.
One that might be close would be in the field of law enforcement. I was talking to a friend yesterday who was telling me about his own profession and the startlingly larger number of people in law enforcement who don’t make it to retirement. A variety of issues: burnout, family/marriage breakdown, suicide, mental illness, physical illness – that cut short the careers of men and women in police work.
Some of the reasons, the pathology, behind the problem sound incredibly similar to the things that are breaking pastors.
Their work sets them apart. I’ve got a friend who did police work for a long time. He said there were some pretty awkward moments at church and at work when he’d show up to a domestic dispute on Saturday at the home of someone he’d see the next morning at worship. It’s common for pastors to have given counsel to couples going through rough times, families struggling with some issues only to find that when the crisis was over they didn’t really want to see that pastor on Sunday’s anymore. TMI – too much information and even if you’re not a judgmental person people will often feel judged.
Try this. Next time you’re in a normal conversation with someone you just met and it turns to what you do for a living, tell them you’re a pastor/minister/priest. Watch the brain freeze as they quickly replay for themselves the entire conversation you’ve just had to figure out if they’ve said anything to you that will send them to hell or they need to apologize for. As pastors we tend to get lumped together so whatever the view the person you’re talking to has of clergy types – pedophiles, judgmental, boring, dumb, super holy, non-human – will now transform your conversation. My favourite response and the one that seems most common after I tell people what I do is, “That must be…um…rewarding.” Have you ever said that to anyone in any other profession? What does that mean?
A lot of pastor types were told, like I was in Bible College, not to become friends with people in your church. There were reasons given, none good, and a generation went forth and became isolated. This was horrible advice and so far from biblical that it’s almost crazy talk. But still, a lot of clergy types who move in and are told by board members, “I was here before you came and I’ll still be here and on the board long after you’ve gone…” find it really difficult to build honest, safe friendships within the church.
Another thing my friend from law enforcement said was that part of their job involves being around a certain type of person and in certain types of situations all day, every day. Basically, rather than seeing people at their best, they see people at their worst. A lot.
People are people, I know. But it really sucks when you get hit by friendly fire. Someone, probably a pastor, once said that the Church is the only army that shoots its’ wounded. I’ve been astonished, am astonished, at the number of people who find themselves in the Church, priests, pastors, super apostles, who step on, roll over, devalue, ignore and otherwise abuse the people around them. And I’ve listened to the stories of countless friends who got caught by a bunch of sheep who kicked the crap out of them or their spouse or their kids or all the above.
My wife, the elusive Donna, was once cornered by some ladies who “felt led” to give her some parenting tips when we only had one child. They caught her when I was not around and that’s the only reason I’m not in prison now. Their “loving talk” left her bruised and bleeding.
I’ve never had a person of another faith or no faith at all who has said to me the kind of hurtful, hateful things that other believers have. I’ve never had a pagan tell me I’m corrupting the youth of our province (which really would take some doing) but I’ve had church people tell me that. Does that mean that Jesus isn’t real or the Holy Spirit isn’t really at work? No. No it doesn’t. It just means that we get stressed out when broken people use His name in vain and hurt other people.
I think all over North America pastors are getting broken because of the unhealthy system we’ve created. We’ve come to call things “normal” that you’d never call “normal” in any other situation of life but especially not one that holds “Love” as the greatest command/rule/precept.
Hurting people hurt people but why aren’t the sons and daughters of God being healed by the great Physician and becoming the peacemakers and lovers the Spirit transforms us to be? Is this a “wheat and tares” kind of deal where we’ll always have a mix in the church? Do you think I’m exaggerating or overstating? Is my record stuck on “whine”?
(Today’s post compels me to ad this note – I’ve never felt more loved, more supported and more friendship than I do right here, right now. I really love being a part of the friends/church that I’m a part of. There are still issues because we’re all human but this is the closest to the real deal that I’ve ever been.)
…to be continued…